The phrase "American exceptionalism" is used in many ways and for many purposes, but its original meaning involved a statement of fact: for the first century after the Constitution went into effect, European observers and Americans alike saw the United States as exceptional, with political and civic cultures that had no counterparts anywhere else.
Title:American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History
- 70 Paperback pages
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In "American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History," Charles Murray describes how America’s geography, ideology, politics, and daily life set the new nation apart from Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. He then discusses the ways that exceptionalism changed during America’s evolution over the course of the 20th century. Which changes are gains to be applauded? Which are losses to be mourned? Answering these questions is the essential first step in discovering what you want for America’s future.
"The concept of American exceptionalism has become associated with meanings that are filled with emotion and value judgments—intertwined with patriotism, for those who approve of it, or connoting jingoism or chauvinism, for those who disapprove. I write about American exceptionalism from another tradition that has four characteristics:
American exceptionalism is a concept that was shared by observers throughout the Western world, not just Americans. "Understanding the meaning of American exceptionalism is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand what it has meant to be an American."The Founders certainly believed that they were creating something of extraordinary significance. That’s why the motto on the Great Seal of the United States is novus ordo seclorum—‘a new order of the ages.’ But it was foreigners who took the lead in describing the United States and Americans as being unlike all other countries and peoples.
American exceptionalism does not imply American excellence or superiority. Americans tend to think that most of the traits of American exceptionalism are positive, but others, especially European elites, have always disagreed. Even those of us who think they are positive must acknowledge aspects of American exceptionalism that are problematic.
American exceptionalism is a fact of America’s past, not something that you can choose whether to “believe in” any more than you can choose whether to ‘believe in’ the battle of Gettysburg. Understanding its meaning is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand what it has meant to be an American.
American exceptionalism refers to qualities that were first observed in the opening century of our history. There’s no reason why they necessarily still apply today. The extent to which they still apply is an empirical question."
— Charles Murray